Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated
the next twelve months more than a year to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the 64th installment.
When I kicked off this whole Great Alan Moore Reread thing, in the final days of October 2011, I laid out my plan, and my purpose, and added, about Alan Moore: “He has certainly written dozens of amazing, transcendent comic books. But he’s also written some terrible ones, too. At least, that’s my memory of his work.”
Now, I didn’t reread every single story Alan Moore has written. Eager to get into some of his more famous—or notorious—early work by starting with Marvelman, I skipped comic strips like The Stars My Degradation or Three-Eyes McGurk and His Death Planet Commandos (I know, I’m sorry!). And even with 63 installments of my reread, I didn’t address Moore’s two prose stories for 1982’s BJ and the Bear Annual, nor his Night Raven text stories, nor his novels or his spoken word pieces, and I didn’t talk about his recent, self-produced Dodgem Logic local culture and history zine at all. I made an early decision to stick to his comics work, mostly, and it was enough. A truly comprehensive Mega-Great Absolutely Complete Alan Moore Reread is a lifetime project, particularly because the guy’s still out there writing essays and short films and maybe even a comic book once in a while.
Even though he’s still working, and still producing plenty of material worth talking about (though with less frequency than in his younger years), as we come to a close on our admittedly limited but still hopefully Great reread that we reflect not just on the comics that Moore has written, but on the way he has influenced so many other creators. It’s time to take stock in the Alan Moore legacy, even if the shockwaves of his influence run deeper than we can clearly see on the surface of popular culture right now. But even if we stick to the surface, there’s plenty to find in Moore’s legacy.
Along the way of this reread, I’ve provided some historical context for some of the comics and made note of when Moore’s work affected the work of those who followed him into the four-color fantasies of the comic book marketplace. I’m sure I pointed out how Marvelman was a milestone of superhero deconstruction, and though Moore wasn’t the first to provide some real-world context for insane superpowers and costumed absurdity (nearly twenty years earlier, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby told stories about the Fantastic Four going broke, and half-a-generation later Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams brought drug use and racial strife to the usually otherworldly exploits of Green Lantern), Moore’s specific approach to Marvelman was the model other comic book creators would try to mimic.
Not right away. It had to sink in a bit, and the writers working in the industry at the time were less impressionable than the up-and-comers who would soon enter the industry. But between Marvelman and Swamp Thing and Watchmen, Moore established a kind of smart, literate, deadly-serious-but-viciously-ironic embrace of superhero tropes that was often attempted by others but something was always missing. What was missing was, of course, Moore’s unique sensibility. His seriousness-of-approach could be copied. His poetic captions. His viciousness. Even his humor and sense of irony. But not all at once. And not with the ineffable playfulness that makes Moore who he is.
The fields of the comic book kingdom are littered with almost-Alan-Moore projects, many of which found commercial success because readers saw just enough of the Moore influence to make them seem maybe-just-good-enough-to-be-worthwhile. Mostly, they aren’t. And they are forgotten soon after the initial buzz of hey, this is kind of like Alan Moore isn’t it wears off.
How often do people talk about J. Michael Stracyznski projects like Rising Stars or Supreme Power anymore? Those comics wear the Alan Moore influence on every sleeve, and there was a time when both of those comics achieved a level of attention that, in retrospect, they didn’t much deserve. I suppose there may be a few readers still championing those mostly-forgotten comics, but their number has dwindled as people have gone on to read other, better comics. And, in 2012, Straczynski started doing his Alan Moore impression even more overtly, scripting a few of the Before Watchmen comics. Read any of those issues and you’ll see how short he comes to anything close to the Alan Moore ideal.
When novelist Brad Meltzer turned his attention to comics, with a short Green Arrow run and then the superhero rape-mystery miniseries Identity Crisis, he may have referenced other Bronze Age creators like Marv Wolfman and George Perez, but his comics felt more like thrice reheated Alan Moore leftovers. When Geoff Johns brought back some of the elements of Alan Moore’s Green Lantern mythology and incorporated it into his relaunch of Hal Jordan’s career and everything that followed leading up to the Blackest Night event, Moore himself accused DC Comics of “desperate and humiliating” behavior. “It’s tragic,” Moore said in that interview from 2009. “The comics that I read as a kid that inspired me were full of ideas. They didn’t need some upstart from England to come over there and tell them how to do comics. They’d got plenty of ideas of their own. But these days, I increasingly get a sense of the comics industry going through my trashcan like raccoons in the dead of the night.”
Moore, though, has admitted that he doesn’t read current comics, and hasn’t for a long time, so he’s reacting more about what he hears about contemporary comics than what he actually sees on the page. Prominent comic book writer Jason Aaron responded to Moore’s criticism of the current state of comics, and Moore’s attacks against the current crop of creators, and some of his colleagues responded with their own commentary. None of it means all that much, other than the shadow of Alan Moore is so large that even his admittedly uninformed opinions carry enough weight to cause extreme reactions. His presence looms over everything done in and around the superhero genre to this day.
And even if some of the best comic book writers of the past two decades have been able to fly out from under Moore’s shadow, many of them began their careers—or produced some of their seminal work—in a Moore-ish vein. Grant Morrison may have been writing comics before Marvelman changed the rules, but when he was trying to break into American comics, he did his version of Alan Moore for the opening story arc on Animal Man, waiting until issue #5, “The Coyote Gospel,” to lend his own voice to the series. Warren Ellis went on to produce some of the most influential comics of the late-1990s/early-2000s, but work like Marvel’s Ruins owes a debt to the bleaker side of Moore and his later Wildstorm work was largely a spin-off of what Moore had started to do with WildC.A.T.s, though Ellis expanded the envelope with The Authority and Planetary.
Then there’s Moore’s most famous disciple: Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s sensibility was shaped by dozens of influences and Moore was clearly just one, but you’ll find nothing that’s as much a spiritual sequel to Swamp Thing as Gaiman’s Sandman run. Gaiman builds on Moore’s Swamp Thing mythology explicitly in his series about Dream and the Endless, and though Gaiman has his own interests in story and the art of storytelling—constantly explored in Sandman—his highly-regarded series can trace much of its personality back to grandpa Alan Moore.
Surely Vertigo Comics would never have existed without Alan Moore, and the attempt to brand the Karen Berger line of comics to recapture some of the Moore magic, even if Berger may well have ended up with her own imprint anyway, and even if DC has never truly acknowledged their debt to Moore.
This is all comics stuff, though, and surely Moore has had a wider influence than that, but that’s much more difficult to determine. The film versions of his comics may have had an impact, but they aren’t exactly faithful to the source material and the style of Moore’s telling is as important—more important, mostly—than whatever content translates to the screen. The largest influence is probably from the V for Vendetta movie, which has led to the adoption of the Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol of protest, revolution, and the power of the individual to resist the crushing jackboots of oppression. Moore has seen the iconography from one of his comic books became a real-life symbol, and that’s an influence that will linger.
But in the end, this reread was about, as I said earlier in this post, my own efforts to reread his comics and see what they had to say. As I admitted, I remembered them quite fondly, with only a few “terrible” exceptions along the way. If anyone has read this entire Great Alan Moore Reread series, you’ll recognize that I didn’t find much that was terrible as I reread Moore’s comics. There were a few, but they were rare. Mostly, Alan Moore’s comics are just really good comic books that are still inspirational in their mastery of the form. They might not all be transcendent masterpieces, but they are all—well, almost all—worth going back to and discovering year after year. The ultimate legacy of Alan Moore’s comics is that they’re just good comics. Really good, overall. And with more variety than you might expect in three or four successful careers.
I’ve spent 16 months rereading Alan Moore, and I’m still excited about reading what he’s done and what he has left to do. He’s one of the great ones, so let’s keep reading him, even after this series of posts has come to an end.
NEXT TIME: The final post in The Great Alan Moore Reread: My All-Time Alan Moore Top 10!